Global Ethics Corner: Child Soldiers and Counter-Terrorism: Should the U.S. Aid Countries that Recruit Child Soldiers?

Oct 28, 2011

Child soldiers and foreign aid raise an important ethical dilemma: Should allies that use child soldiers receive U.S. military aid, even if it compromises our opposition to the practice? When--if ever--should concerns about security trump concerns for human rights?

Every year, thousands of children serve in militaries in conflict zones around the world. They're used as combatants, messengers, spies, and military personnel. The problem is particularly acute in Africa , where children as young as nine are cheap and effective instruments in the waging of war. To address this problem, the U.S. passed the "Child Soldiers Protection Act" in 2008.

The Act prohibits the U.S. from providing military, training, and defense assistance to countries that recruit child soldiers.

But the Obama administration has repeatedly chosen to override this federal law. In both 2010 and 2011, the administration cited U.S. national interests as crucial to its decision to provide assistance to four of the nations that use child soldiers, including Yemen.

The administration vehemently defends its assistance to Yemen. It points out that the country is a key partner in America's counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda. If the U.S. pulled its aid to Yemen's military, Yemen 's counter-terrorism missions could be undermined and Americans put at risk.

Human rights activists are outraged. They accuse the Obama administration of abandoning child soldiers. They say President Obama is supporting violators of international law when he should be pressing for reform in countries with a proven history of abuse, And by lending U.S. assistance to Yemen's military, U.S. taxpayers are inadvertently funding the recruitment and conscription of child soldiers in Africa.

Child soldiers and foreign aid raise an important ethical dilemma: Should allies that use child soldiers receive U.S. military aid, even if it compromises our opposition to the practice? When—if ever—should concerns about security trump concerns for human rights? What do you think?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

Josh Rogin, "Obama waives penalties on countries that employ child soldiers--again!," Foreign Policy Magazine, October 4, 2011

Brian Knowlton, "4 Nations With Child Soldiers Keep U.S. Aid," The New York Times, October 28, 2010

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:

Mikhail Evstafiev U.S. Signal Corps L. Rose Master Sgt. Ken Bergmann/U.S. Air Force Pete Souza Sallam Ammar Abd Rabbo Joshua Sherurcij Pierre Holtz/UNICEF CAR Afghanistan Matters

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